The project began life in 2019 as a Facebook group, created by Graves-based winemaker Jean-Baptiste Duquesne of Château Cazebonne. The positive reactions from both the public and fellow winemakers that followed prompted the group to pursue official recognition.
‘The idea started with me and with my friend Laurent David of Château Edmus in St-Emilion. He gave me the idea of the name “pirate”,’ Duquesne told Decanter.
‘So in December 2019, I created a Facebook group called Bordeaux Pirate to show that Bordeaux can be different. Anyone could join the group and talk about new things happening in the region. We now have over three thousand members, about a tenth of whom are producers.’
The group introduced itself to the public and the trade in January 2020, when Duquesne exhibited alongside six fellow winemakers at the Wine Paris fair. ‘Then Covid hit and stopped everything for two years,’ Duquesne explained. Doubled in size, the collective returned to exhibit in 2022 while working towards achieving official status.
The collective now counts 10 official members, including founders Laurent Cassy of Château Chillac and Fabien Lapeyre of Château La Peyre, as well as Duquesne and David themselves.
The Union des Vignerons Bordeaux Pirate was set up with the key goal to associate alternative and innovative winemakers. ‘Things are no longer moving in Bordeaux, we have standardised and stereotyped wines. Our keyword is innovation,’ said Duquesne, whose co-fermented Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc cuvée and work with neglected Bordeaux grapes are examples of activities seen as challenging the status quo.
‘But anything new is interesting to us. It could be the packaging, the wine’s style, the way you work in the winery or communicate to the public,’ he added.
According to the group, unconventional Bordeaux producers have little chances to get noticed, talked about and traded, with associations such as the Bordeaux Syndicat and the region’s multiple classification systems only open to those who comply with the criteria set out by Bordeaux’s appellation structure.
To tackle this challenge, the Union aims to offer alternative producers a collective platform to communicate with professionals and with the public. ‘The only way I have to get my wines tasted by a journalist is to send them to the Syndicat, but I can only do it if they are labelled with an appellation [which they are not]. You have to be conformist in Bordeaux, you have no other option,’ said Duquesne. ‘This is going to be the only way for new, innovative winemakers to get their wines tasted.’
To become a Pirate Union member, winemakers are required to pay an annual fee – from €200 to €400 depending on size – and have at least one of their wines labelled as ‘pirate’ by a jury of trade experts. ‘All pirate wines will bear our logo, but we’re still working on that because we are not allowed to use the word “Bordeaux” on it,’ said Duquesne.
He highlighted that, unlike other organisations, the Pirate Union is not concerned with specific production methods or philosophies. It is instead committed to a focus on personal identity and innovation by keeping its membership as open as possible: ‘Only in this way will we see more innovation in the region. We are yet to finalise the set of criteria that will officially define a Bordeaux pirate wine, the only thing for now is that all wines need to be organic.’
The criteria will be finalised by October, when the group is planning to host its first formal tasting and judging day. The following steps will involve building a website and the organisation of a series of official events across France.